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Sarah Holden is a graduate student in the Jewelry and Metalsmithing department at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee . She received her BFA in Craft: Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA in 2008. She works in a variety of materials from precious metals to plastics, fiber, steel and reclaimed items, although her formal training is concentrated in the field of Jewelry and Metalsmithing. Since the field of adornment utilizes such a variety of media to explore the current definitions of jewelry, Sarah creates work that exists somewhere between adornment, performance, fashion and sculpture. She is interested in how the language of adornment communicates information about its wearer through cultural signifiers.
TALK ABOUT YOUR CURRENT PRACTICE. WHAT DO YOU MAKE AND WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I am working on a series of personal devices that are reactive to the emotional unrest of being separated from all that is familiar. I have turned to Feminism, Fetishism, and Ritual as ways to approach understanding the wearer of my work. The work in my studio now embraces the theory of woman as objectified possession through scopophilic gaze, and attempts to confront, retaliate, and threaten through the power of amulets. The most current piece I am working on is in the form of a brassiere, simultaneously exploring constriction and freedom; demanding the viewer to gaze upon the wearer and then punishing them for doing so. The wearer or subject matter of my work is most commonly me, however I feel the subject matter is universal and relates to the story of many others. I am intentionally working with fiber, a material known for its gendered history as female and I wish to reclaim it as something dangerous and powerful. The line of the thread has become an important part of my visual language as well, evidence of the act of making, understood in the same way as the written word. Working in this way is allowing me to analyze why working with the body is so important to me as well as investigate the power of emotion in art.
WHAT GOT YOU TO THIS POINT? WHAT WERE YOU DOING OR MAKING BEFORE AND HOW DID THAT LEAD YOU TO THIS KIND OF PRODUCTION?
Fashion, adornment and the human desire to decorate have always interested me. What I learned in my undergraduate experience is that the absurdity of accepted Western dress is also an important thread in my work. Three of the most successful pieces I made during my BFA reflect these ideas . “Sea Anemone Suit for Swimming,” and “Sea Anemone for Daily Wear,” are part of the same series dealing with my fear of physically being injured, extending out to emotional or psychological threats.
“Sea Anemone Suit for Swimming,” was first in the series and is a two-piece swimsuit constructed of felted orange tubes or anemone “fingers” which posses the hunger to consume anything that might want to approach the wearer of the piece in the water. After making the anemone suit I felt like this protection could be widened to daily life. “Sea Anemone for Daily Wear,” is by first glance a brightly colored container that resembles the form of a sea anemone living on a coral somewhere. Upon closer inspection the container is fabricated of formed copper and silver. The surface is revealed to be a mixture of paint and colored pencil that mimics the same hue of the fuzzy fiber “fingers” found inside the compartments of the container. The “fingers” are offered parts of a brooch to be collected and then constructed, with the assistance of magnets, on the wearer as daily protection from negative energy that might harm the wearer throughout the day.
These pieces were introduced fiber into my metal work, which I feel has been a successful step towards the work I am making now. The anemone pieces also started to push my work from a more intimate scale to acknowledge the entire body as the frame for my pieces. “Empire Line Posture Device,” is when I started to become fascinated with the absurd history of modern dress and one of the largest pieces I have made to date. The welded steel construction has a hinged steel strap, which rests at the empire line, just under the breasts and is connected to a melon-sized ball of sliced steel circles, which extends out about 5 feet behind the wearer. This piece speaks to the nonsensical and accepted evolution of western garmetry which has allowed me to consider a certain level of fantasy in my work.
WHO INSPIRES YOU – THAT YOU KNOW PERSONALLY, AS WELL AS HISTORICALLY OR IN CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE?
I love being an artist because I am surrounded by creative people who are interested in all the weird things you don’t hear about every day. My friends are what push me to continuously investigate and allow me to be a weirdo without penalty. Erin Williams was a graduate student when I was in undergrad and she taught me to always question why. I look up to her and feel like her work is the lens through which I understand my own work. In the arsenal of visuals that I always return to are the extensive variety of African and Asian tribal dress as well as the history of western dress from corsets to high heel shoes. I find the reality of these images interesting and try to apply the same absurdity in my own work. In contemporary practice I pull imagery everywhere from the avant garde fashion of Commes Des Garcons, Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gautlier to performances of artists like Vito Acconci, Jana Sterbeck, Rebecca Horn , Annie Sprinkle and Carolee Schneeman. The fashionistas make us look at the body in unusual ways while the work of the performance artists amazingly transforms the body into the artwork to be viewed. Although I do not consider the work I am making now jewelry per se, I am very aware of the work that is being made in my field and find that the work of Katja Prins , Iris Eichenberg , Gerd Rothman and Pia Aleborg specifically deals with the body as subject however different the methodologies are utilized to create their discussion.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE WORKS OF ART FROM YOUR ENTIRE REPERTOIRE – WHY THEY DESERVE THOSE TITLES AND WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM THEM.
The least favorite work that I made was last fall when I was working primarily in gold. I received a very prestigious fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA to purchase gold and incorporate it in my work. First, I have to say that it was amazing to be included in the Fellowship and I am so glad that I had an opportunity to include gold into my vocabulary, but something about the finished work just didn’t make sense to me. I am completely comfortable working in gold now because of the opportunity, and feel like it will come back into my practice one day, but trying to force it into that work specifically did not work. I was researching scent, and the olfaction system as an identification method and the research was very interesting to me, however when it came to the execution of the work, something just didn’t work. I think now it was the gold itself. I told myself I was going to work in gold, I needed to know this language in order to be a proper metalsmith, but something just wasn’t happening for me. For about six months I was making work I really wasn’t into, but I felt like I needed to make that work, to get back to the work I enjoyed. I think this was the clearest example for me that I can never decide what material I am going to work in before I finish my research and begin making the work. My favorite work was definitely the “Sea Anemone Suit for Swimming,” and “Empire Line Posture Device.” At that time I was really excited about my research of tribal dress as well as avant garde fashion, sculptural garmetry and prosthetics. It was also a time when I was completely invested in the research and not worried about entering shows as much. Allowing myself to experiment without deadlines proved to be a very productive time in my practice.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW, AND WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR WORK HEADED NEXT?
Right now I am making a series of objects that exist in the area of the neck and upper body, you could say neckpieces and brassieres, and I can’t decide if they are just one or both. I am very interested in Feminism and how that applies to my work, which always exists on the body, and deals specifically with sexuality. This is my second semester of graduate school and although I feel like I am starting to understand my practice, I certainly don’t have everything figured out yet, but I am in a very exciting stage of discovery. The making and the research has proved to be a very emotional investigation into the type of work I feel I need to make to feel successful. The objects that I am making now are active, while the body itself is passive. I want to continue this farther, not by activating the body and performing the objects but by somehow creating an electrical component that activates the objects as the viewer interacts with them closer and closer. So the objects themselves start to have this life, which is because of the body they are ‘living’ on or a part of, but the interaction is between the objects and the viewer.
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